Thursday, September 20, 2018

Relationship talk part 5

Although a woman may find that it is relatively easy for her to attract a man, what she may also find is that she is unable to find a man who actually wants a relationship. This may mean that she has been with a number of men who were emotionally unavailable.

Even so, this doesn't mean that she was able to realise this when she first met each of these men. Therefore, each time she met one of these men, she may have believed that her luck was about to change.

Up and Down

She would have experienced certain feelings and thoughts at the beginning and, after a certain amount of time passed, her inner world would have changed. It may have been as though she was flying at one point and at another; her wings had been taken away.

If she did end up falling down emotionally, it might then have had an impact on every other area of her life. She may have alternated between feeling angry at the guy she was with and feeling angry at herself.

Two Options

At this point, she might decide to take a break from men and to focus on other areas of her life. But, even if she was to take this route, it might only be a matter of time before she feels the urge to find a man who is available.

Conversely, it might only be a matter of time before she ends up coming into contact with a guy who she believes is available. It might be different this time, but then again, it may end up being just the same as before.

The Third Option

Another approach would be for the woman to take a step back and to think about why she has the tendency to attract these kinds of men. She will be the person who shows up each time, so it is not as though she is just an observer of what is taking place.

If she is too attached to her mind, it might not be possible for her to accept this. There will then be no reason for her to look within or to change her behaviour, as it will simply be about finding the right man.

External Focus

Consequently, she may feel the need to learn about how to spot a man who is not available. Looking within and finding out about what part she is playing is likely to be better, but this will be better than nothing.

At least if she does find out about what the signs are, she will be able to walk away a lot sooner. By focusing entirely on the external world, it will help to minimize the amount of pain that she will have to experience.

Early On

What she may find out is that if a man comes on really strong at the beginning, it could show that he is not available. For so long, she may have believed that this meant that he was ready to have a relationship.

The reason this is likely to show that something isn't right is because the man won't know much about the woman, yet he will be willing to offer so much - or so it seems. If a man actually wanted to have a relationship with a woman, he would take the time to get to know her.

The Sensible Approach

This is similar to similar to how he wouldn't just give a job to anyone if he wanted to hire someone who would have a positive effect on his business. If a man creates the impression that he is willing to jump into a relationship more or less straight away, it can show that he only has the ability to connect mentally and physically.

It is then not that he needs to protect his heart by getting to know a woman first, as this part of him is not open anyway. His primary need can be to experience physical pleasure and to fulfil his need for attention and approval, for instance.

Two Parts

What can fuel his need to connect so soon is the feeling of rejection and/or abandonment, and, what can push him away - as the relationship develops - is the feeling of being smothered. Feeling this way can then cause the man to disappear, only to return once he starts to get in touch with the feelings that made him come on strong to begin with.

This is not always going to happen, though, and the man may not come on very strong in the beginning. Still, he may have the inclination to talk about his ex a lot or even put fforward the idea of having an open relationship.

Physically Present, Emotionally Absent

When it comes to the former, this can show that he is still emotionally attached to his ex, meaning that he is only able to offer part of himself to another woman. Being with another woman could simply be a way for him to avoid how he feels.

If he was to put forward the idea of an open relationship, it could show that he only has his body and mind to offer. It is then not that he wants a relationship; it is more a case of having a number of women available who will fulfil his 'lower' needs.

A Clear Sign

A man might go one step further than this and end up having a number of different affairs. Going with other women can allow the man to experience a sense of freedom, with this being a way for him to regain his boundaries.

Getting close to a woman will erode his sense of self and getting away from her will rebuild it. Thus, while this will take care of his sexual needs, it can be more about gaining a sense of control.


These are just a few of the things that a woman can look out for if she is looking to have a relationship. If she was to look within and to see what part she is playing in all this, it is likely to make it easier for her to find a man who is available.

One of the things that might be stopping her from finding a man who is able to fully show up is the fear of being seen, along with a fear of being smothered. One way for her to shed light on why this area of her life is this way will be for her to look into what took place during her early years.

The assistance of a therapist or a healer may be needed here.....

Relationship talks part 4

'I have a lot of room for growth,' I said as a parting shot at church one day, and the mentor I had just conversed with quipped back, 'Yes, well, growth depends on the environment you're planted in, doesn't it?'

He might have said that like a throwaway remark, but those words had impact, and I can hardly remember anything else being so encouraging during that season. In that single one-liner there was a strong validation to the fact that we can put in as much effort as we want, but if we are not treated well, if we are not loved, our output is compromised, often because we second-guess our results, because we just know the relationship is tenuous and trust isn't all it should be.

Good hearts need good support,

and they love well

when they're in a good environment.

But put a good heart into a toxic environment, where conflict is part and parcel of the culture, where leadership do not resolve it and even seem to revel in it, and it's only a matter of time before the good heart becomes despondent.

Good hearts cannot survive in a toxic environment.

I read a quote recently that sums it all up:

"Here's the thing about people with good hearts.

"They give you excuses when you don't explain yourself. They accept apologies you don't give. They see the best in you when you don't need them. At your worst, they lift you up, even if it means putting their priorities aside. The word 'busy' doesn't exist in their dictionary. They make time, even when you don't.

"And you wonder why they're the most sensitive people, the most caring people, why they are willing to give so much of themselves with no expectation in return. You wonder why their existence is not essential to your well-being. It's because they don't make you work hard for the attention they give you. They accept the love they think they've earned and you accept the love you think you're entitled to. Don't take them for granted. Let me tell you something. Fear the day when a good heart gives up on you. Our skies don't become grey out of nowhere. Our sunshine does not allow the darkness to take over for no reason. A heart does not turn cold unless it's been treated with coldness for a while."

- Najwa Zebian (Emphasis added)

Over my 35-year working life I have been exposed to all sorts of different working cultures. Some were positively inspirational, where the firms invested significantly in quality leadership programs. The defining feature of these cultures was their approach to conflict. There was no partiality, and in conflict everyone was treated equally, because right and wrong have nothing to do with who holds or demands power, and both sides of a conflict have their contribution. Both could have done better.

I have seen it time and again, the good heart prosper in a nurturing environment, just as much as the good heart dying in a poor one. The first question any of us should ask when someone is misbehaving - well before we look to punish them - is, are they planted in a nurturing environment? This is not about mollycoddling, it is as much about the person feeling that they are supported.

Then there comes the topic of marriage, where conflict is front-and-centre in the operations of the covenant:

It is a fundamental of marriage,

of course, that each partner feels

they have the support of their spouse.

We can tend to take it for granted that there is an equilibrium in marriage, all things being equal. My experience is that there is always some kind of imbalance, where one takes more responsibility than the other. They apologise quicker and more often. They make excuses for the other. They forgive without receiving an appropriate apology. They don't see as much repentance as they themselves repent. (And it's horrid, yet not unusual, when both partners see themselves as victims.)

When a marriage is pushed to the extreme, where one is responsible for the success of the marriage, in upholding the facade I mean, relational dynamics come to be toxic. An ugly pattern has formed. The marriage has become devitalised.

What am I saying here, in summing up?

God asks us to work on us, such that we would submit to Him enough that He would build a good heart within us; the kind of heart that takes responsibility for our contribution to relationships and conflicts that emerge. What are we investing?

I could argue that it is only the good heart, one that is prone to repentance, that even knows God, for I am sure there are many Christians by designation only. They certainly don't show any fruit of repentance. Of the meaningful and sincere variety; the change of mind translating into change of action.

What is it for us? We will all stand before God one day. Are we happy with how we fit with all our relationships? These are the things I'm sure that God will hold us to account to. He may well ask, 'Did you live at peace with everyone, as far as it depended on you?' There are some relationships, for sure, that we're to shake the dust from our feet, but what about those relationships we're called to nurture?

In all good conscience, what say you?

Are you in nurturing good hearts around you?

And are you allowing God to nurture a good heart within you?

At some point we must ask ourselves,

are we committed to nurture,

or are we conspiring to neglect?

We cannot have it both ways.

Relationship talks part 3

I must say, that what still comes very much without warning, I still find hard to deal with, but I know in being honest I can trust my method.

I have an irregular relationship with compassion fatigue, in that I feel I am sucked dry of empathy at times to the point where I have nothing left. Times like this I'm irrational in what I say, I complain, and I can't quite seem to find space and outlet for recovery. It is generally the night's sleep that brings me out of it.

It wasn't until relatively recently that a fellow pastor shared with me how hazardous pastoral work is that I realised the gauntlet we pastors run. We work with sinners. We are sinners. We are in an environment to provide care, but the truth is we ourselves are not always taken care of; we are not always paragons of health. People come to church expecting to get their care, and when our lives are full to the brim with these relationships our tanks easily run dry.

Workers whose primary function

it is to provide care,

need a developed understanding

for how compassion fatigue

works in them.

Whenever I experience compassion fatigue it always feels like spiritual attack, because the spirituality I can normally rely on seems absent. It is as if God's Presence has been drawn away. I know God is close, but only because I know, because I cannot feel Him. This feeling of spiritual attack comes in the mode of chaos, much like the sensory overload people with autism experience. Every sound is amplified, bumps in the road are particularly annoying, my thinking is dull, I don't feel empathetically like I normally do, and my hope goes out the window. Everything feels like a test. Yet God is with me to the extent of wisdom; counselling me to guard my heart, be patient, and seek release into peace.

Whenever I experience compassion fatigue it's as if my spiritual engine is sputtering and stalling, because although there are still little glimpses of care and love, intermingled with them are moments where I cannot muster any hope, or any motive of care.

I've learned to trust my method, because this kind of experience has been normal for me since I approached burnout in 2005. This irregular relationship I have with compassion fatigue is God's warning to me, to heed the time to withdraw, to recover and replenish spiritual stores.

Self-care requires self-awareness, honesty and courage,

because to drive ahead nonchalantly is self-destruction.

Even as I reengage cognitively, allowing my mind to focus without the presence of emotional stimuli, I am able to gain confidence that I am 'normal' once again. I need to let my heart rest; to stop feeling. And to reduce the noise.

It is very disconcerting to feel the bottom fall out of our spirituality, just as it is scary for loved ones to see us disempowered. What feels like freefall is arrested, but only with rest and in faith that what works, works, and that we just need to do it.

I would be the first person to say that I am weak, and that the gospel encourages me, that, in being weak, I am strong in the Lord Jesus, but only when I surrender my denial and my resentment of the problem to Him.

Compassion fatigue comes through

being drained of empathy.

What I've found

is I've had to find

what works in restoring my soul.

This irregular relationship with compassion fatigue thankfully only occurs in a kind of monthly cycle. God can quickly show me how much I rely on encouragement, and how easily affected I am being discouraged. Although God knows we need it, encouragement ought to be a nice by-product of ministry, and should never be what we do ministry for. And we do need to find ways of dealing with the inevitable discouragements that come. But ultimately compassion fatigue comes through being drained of empathy.

Relationship talks part 2

As a counsellor and a champion for peacemaking, I find there are two noteworthy kinds of silence that occur within conflict. One is very dynamic, but the other is very destructive.

We have all engaged in both types. But we are not all yet characterised for the application of the dynamic type.

Destructive silence leads to frustration, anger and despair.

Dynamic silence leads to hope, healing and restoration.

The destructive silence is that which occurs when conflict cannot be resolved, and either the conflict is swept under the carpet, or it produces passive aggressiveness in one or both people. This latter form of the destructive silence is particularly problematic, because one or both get involved in manipulating the other, and it is not unusual for a pattern of abuse or toxic relationship to form. The former kind, whilst it is understandable, and incredibly common to the family experience of so many, ensures that poorly negotiated conflict negates the opportunity that well negotiated conflict presents.

If we insist nothing gets resolved, then we insist that at least one person stays frustrated, and that can never be good, and it certainly isn't demonstrative of love.

One person's insisted-upon silence,

(their silence of control)

is never an action of love.

Many people do need time

to reflect and recover,

however, they ideally reinitiate

without their partner thinking

they've been abandoned.

Some people, indeed some couples, have no frame of reference around dealing with conflict in the safe way. Their families of origin gave them little to work on and were perhaps either violent or denying when conflict around the home got hot.

But if relationships have any hope there must be a commitment to work through conflict - to believe that conflict is an opportunity. But conflict can only be an opportunity if wise and loving minds apply mutual submission by each getting the log out of their own eye. And, as a husband in an egalitarian marriage, counselling marriage partners to apply egalitarian principles, I ask the husband to lead by example. I guess I do this because I acknowledge that, in many cases, wives are already doing it better. (I do concede this is not always the case.)

If the destructive silence turns bitter, one or both engaged in it don't look like they're hurt by the conflict, but it can simmer for hours, days, weeks, forever. It is children in the home that particularly notice it.

When nothing gets resolved,

nobody has any peace.

A silence that fails to resolve conflict,

only serves to infuriate all parties.

But I want a focus on the dynamic kind of silence.

The form of relational silence I want to focus on is that cherished moment when one or both cease to argue, where they both sit in the awkward silence and ponder what could be from what is.

It takes one to initiate

what both need: silence.

For those who believe in God, those who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, there may be faith enough to trust that more said is not necessarily better said. There must come a time when hostilities cease; a time when the spirit of a soul surrenders its strong desire (the desire that has become a demand) for its own way. If one is content to sit in silence oftentimes the other is content, also.

Desires taken too far become demands,

and when demands aren't met,

the person judges the other person,

and then punishes them.

In these moments, a wise couple or good friends or co-workers or parents with their children, may sense the opportunity to look inward, to enquire why their desires have become demands, and to also become curious about what the other person's realistic desires are.

The only hope two have

of winning in conflict

is if both win.

If one wins, both lose.

That's certainly the way

that negotiators see it.

This dynamic variety of silence has the power of God about it. There is a much bigger chance that true resolution and reconciliation can take place from the safer ground...

Relationship talks

This is another wise saying of my wife's. 'Don't crush the flower before it gets its chance to blossom.'

Now, I am not really a gardener, but I have it on good authority that flowering plants need to be planted and tended well before they can mature. The same theory fits with human beings, whether it is in families, workplaces, churches, or marriages.

Ultimately this is about making the choice to believe in others, to set them up for success, which is to recognise that our success ultimately depends on their success.

If we would be the kind of person or father/mother or manager or pastor or spouse who would put the other person down, we would be putting ourselves down, because in crushing the flower before it blossoms defeats the whole purpose of planting the flower in the first place.

Who enters into a partnership with someone to crush them?

The unfortunate thing, however, is too often we find ourselves in these kinds of relationships. When far too early in the journey the potential was burned. Or, over the longer run the little buds got mangled time and again. There was no chance of recovery. And I have experienced it personally when one fatal moment condemned what was such a promising relationship.

Reverting to the analogy of my wife, all relationships have sanctity, and all people are sacred. Of course, we must choose the right person and the right people to be in relationship with. And once that choice has been made, all following choices pivot around nurturing the relationship, which is to keep it alive, to keep it thriving, hopeful for the fruit of growth, and hopeful to see it in full bloom at the proper time.

'Don't crush the flower before it gets its chance to blossom.'

Relationships will inevitably require a lot of us: patience, kindness, self-control, faithfulness, graciousness, compassion. We can only carry out these qualities in our closest relationships that we wish to see in full bloom when we, ourselves, live out the Christ physiognomies of character.

Of course, it is in our best interest to protect and nurture what is in our best interest to protect and nurture. If we don't protect and nurture what is within our control to protect and nurture, we will find it will cost us dearly. This shouldn't be our primary motivation, but it is sufficient to be a strong motivation anyway.

There are so many kinds of persons that are naïvely susceptible to being abused to the point of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is the vulnerable flower that is crushed hardest and most. It is the vulnerable person who stands to be hurt to the point of trauma.

From a pragmatic viewpoint, it can take some time before the investments of encouragement bear fruit in the blooming of beautiful flowers. But that is our purpose in this world: that the Kingdom might come in the people we serve.

We know that our lives are flourishing when those lives around us are flourishing.